Prue Hyman’s Column

keyNational ‘ignores’ public opinion and ‘erodes democracy’

 By Prue Hyman
Academic, environmentalist and Green Party member

I long ago reached breaking point with many actions and attitudes of the current government.

The particular one I focus on in this column is their total bypassing of public opinion when it does not accord with their current policies or interests.

At the same time they claim without evidence that that their policies accord with public opinion on other issues. And that makes them pander to the loudest voices from pressure groups unlikely to represent most of us when it suits them – for example on punitive three strikes legislation.

Failing to consult or listen when their collective mind is made up is another strategy, attempting to avoid inconvenient and obvious opposition.

Where have they ignored public opinion?

Well, there’s the continuation of the privatisation agenda, oblivious to referendum results in which 67.3 per cent of those who voted were opposed to the Government’s partial sell-off of Air New Zealand, Mighty River Power, Genesis Power, and Meridian Energy.

But government simply add non voters to their supporters when it suits them. So they claimed that with only 44 per cent of those eligible actually voting, the opponents had not really won at all!

Of course, with the referendum non-binding and the government having made clear that it would ignore the outcome, many voters would have not bothered. And if we allow their non–voter argument, National’s supposed (but minority) mandate for anything from the general election in 2011 vanishes totally, given the 800,000 non-voters then.

Not that the mandate counts for much anyway given the low majority of votes cast for the coalition partners – after all many who party voted Maori were almost certainly far to the ‘left’ of National – and many would have been opposed to privatisation.

Electoral reform

A second example of ignoring public opinion relates to the cavalier treatment of the excellent and independent 2012 Electoral Commission report on reforms to the MMP system. Its most important recommendations were to abolish the one electorate seat or ‘coat-tails’ threshold – and also lower that threshold to 4%.

Of course, National has used the coat-tails provision to get its supporters to vote in key electorates for its minority right wing support parties and at some elections thus drag in more list MPs for that party. And it will probably try to do so again this year, possibly rescuing ACT or even worse the Conservative Party.

As the report said on this provision: “Its effect has been to undermine the principles of fairness and equity and the primacy of the party vote in determining the overall composition of Parliament that underpin MMP.  It gives voters in some electorates significantly more influence over the make-up of Parliament than voters in other electorates.”  

Yet the Prime Minister simply said there was no consensus among political parties in favour of its main recommendations so they would not proceed. What he meant was that National did not agree with them because they benefit from the status quo.

The TPPA secrecy

Then there’s the secrecy of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) negotiations, claimed to be due to commercial sensitivity. Government can sign with virtually no community or even Parliamentary scrutiny.

Thankfully, many groups are analysing and publicising the probable content and the negative sides, countering the government’s vast overstating of the likely benefits from (possibly) better access overseas for agricultural products. And US Congress opposition on very different grounds from our own may ironically kill this agreement.

Another recent erosion of democracy is a refusal to hear significant numbers of submitters on Bills requesting to make verbal submissions. The Food Bill is due back in Parliament in May, and some 50 people were advised one day before the February Select Committee hearings that they would not be allowed to appear –too many wanted to. Others with similar concerns would speak on their behalf, they were told!

The important issues to be raised included the Treaty of Waitangi, food safety, milk production and sale, natural supplements, legal fees & restrictions, and GMO’s.

Well, those of us fed up with this government before and since they were elected have six months to convince those who still support them (WHY – for all except the top 1%?). Let’s go to it!

Roy needs to open his eyes, this is a dirty government, and by the way I am no a Labour supporter

Ann

I would just like to say that you must be one of those Labour/Green people that wish to drag this country of ours back to the former days of the previous bankrupt Labour Government
You obviously have no wish to encourage any form of enterprise in utilising the assets that this country holds that can and will bring about prosperity to it’s citizens!!